Privacy & Data Security Law News

L.A. Charges Weather Channel With 24/7 Data Location Mining (1)

Jan. 4, 2019, 6:00 PM

The Weather Channel mobile phone app mined sensitive data on the location of its users without their consent, Los Angeles city officials alleged in a lawsuit against the company.

TWC Product and Technology LLC, which owns and operates the Weather Channel App, used geolocation tracking technology to collected massive amounts of data while misleading consumers about its data use, according to the city’s suit announced Jan. 4.

The app was able “to monitor where users live, work, and visit, twenty-four hours a day, as well as how much time users spend at each location,” city attorney Mike Feuer said in an emailed statement.

“TWC elevates corporate profits over users’ privacy, misleading them into allowing their movements to be tracked, 24/7,” Feuer said. “We’re acting to stop this alleged deceit,” he added.

The company is denying the allegations.

“The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously,” Edward Barbini, vice president of corporate communications at IBM, told Bloomberg Law. IBM owns TWC.

Feuer separately told reporters Jan. 4 that TWC has done nothing to alter their data collection practices, although the company said it would no longer share geolocation data with hedge funds.

Weather App Woes

TWC is one of the “world’s most downloaded weather” applications, according to the complaint, with about 45 million users monthly. That could mean big fines for the company, because the city is seeking up to $2,500 for each privacy violation. It also wants TWC to stop its data collection practices.

The app collected geolocation data on millions of users and shared it with IBM and other third parties for targeted advertising, the city alleged.

California in 2018 passed the country’s most comprehensive privacy law, which will take effect in 2020. The law may pressure state officials to bring more privacy actions against companies that allegedly violate the state’s privacy rules, as residents begin to appreciate their new-found consumer protections.

The privacy suit may also be a sign of things to come from Feuer, who will continue tackling “consumer protection issues, like when he sued Wells Fargo in 2015 over fake accounts,” Rob Wilcox, the office’s communications director, told Bloomberg Law.

“The ever-changing world of technology provides us with lots of new opportunities, but there are also perils associated with using that technology,” Freuer told reporters. “That’s what’s at stake in the case we have just filed,” he said.

The Los Angeles action stems from a New York Times report. The New York Times reported the lawsuit earlier.

The case is Calif. v. TWC Prod. and Tech., LLC., Cal. Super. Ct., complaint filed 1/3/19.

—With assistance from David McAfee in Los Angeles.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel R. Stoller in Washington at dstoller@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com

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